When the COVID-19 pandemic began significantly impacting the U.S. in March and leaders started issuing shelter-in-place orders, AWF’s current class of Inspire Atlanta participants were in the middle of their six-month program, which includes a personal fundraising campaign. Questions arose if fundraising would even be possible not only during a pandemic, but during a massive and rapid economic downturn. While there may have been moments of panic, this year’s class took a beat to regroup and then worked with the staff to figure out how to keep fundraising for women and girls in metro Atlanta during a pandemic. This month we hear from one of the class members, Chrystal Neely, on how she continued to not only fundraise but also excel.
I was raised by a woman who gave her umbrella to strangers she would see without one during rainstorms. A woman who made meals for other single moms as a way to treat them to lunch. A woman who worked nights to ensure her daughter never wanted for anything or felt less-than. As a single mom, my mom always found a way to provide while never turning a blind eye to others’ needs. She set an example of strength, compassion, and determination that is hard to observe and not be compelled to emulate.
I applied for The Atlanta Women’s Foundation’s Inspire Atlanta leadership program to strengthen my leadership skills and to make a positive impact on my community. I started my career in nonprofit, so I was no stranger to fundraising; however, the mission of The Atlanta Women’s Foundation resonated with me. I understand the hardships and challenges low-income women face, yet what was I doing to help?
A few weeks into my AWF fundraising campaign, the world’s attention shifted to COVID-19. As I type this message, the health crisis is far from over. Daily reports of increased COVID-19 cases, unemployment, food shortages, and more are impacting people across the spectrum. A virtual tour of the Nicholas House and an advocacy presentation reignited my fundraising campaign. A health pandemic creates a greater hurdle on an already difficult to maneuver track for those plagued by poverty.
Many will remember 2020 as the year of canceled plans, heartbreak from losing loved ones or the cause of slight PTSD from the thought of having to be sheltered-in-place. I will remember this year as the year that I committed to a program to build stronger, more stable families and communities. I asked for support through LinkedIn, sent texts to friends on a Saturday morning, recruited my husband to reach out to a few contacts on a Sunday afternoon, and leveraged two corporate matching gifts programs to raise $10, 841.27 for women and girls living in poverty in Atlanta. When I expected to hear no, I received kindness, generosity, and compassion.
These vital funds will minimize the stress over housing concerns, feeding families, and technology required learning options. Thanks to those who donated, The Atlanta Women’s Foundation will be able to continue providing funding, resources, and evaluation support to nonprofits that provide programs to low-income women and girls to help them break the cycle of poverty.
My life story could have easily swerved down a different path, but my mother’s determination changed our story. It is my hope that contributed funds will change the stories of other women.
Chrystal Neely is the Director, Internal Communications & Social Media for Acuity Brands. She has responsibility for all employee communication vehicles to elevate understanding, alignment, and engagement. Chrystal is a member of the 2020 class of Inspire Atlanta.